“Shaun the Sheep” as Psycho-Linguistic Utopia

Shaun the Sheep was a favorite of my first daughter, which means I’ve watched every episode a dozen or more times. Now, since my youngest recently became addicted to it, or “sheep!…好” as she calls it, I’ve been going through the episodes noticing all sorts of strange things. Basically it’s like this: Mossy Bottom Farm is the utopian, pastoral fantasy space of a being known as Shaun. It’s his show, after all, so we can say he corresponds to the Freudian ego or governing consciousness of the series. Plus he’s more clever than everyone else. Meanwhile Bitzer, Shaun’s best friend, obviously represents the superego: he is in charge, the one who leads the sheep, fixes things, and manages the farm. Also he has that clipboard, a watch, and the all-important whistle which he uses to keep everyone in line. And then there’s the Farmer, the overweight, pleasure-loving bachelor who is pretty obviously the force of id–i.e., that part of this world that only wants to sit around and eat donuts, play video games, and enjoy a variety of aimless hobbies.

All this is pretty obvious, but it’s interesting to notice that the charm and appeal of the show (for my kids anyway) is the almost total absence of verbal language, which nonetheless plays a central role in everything that happens on the show. What I mean is, while the Farmer gives Bitzer (unintelligible) verbal commands quite a lot, he never tries to directly communicate with Shaun or the other animals in any language, even though Shaun is the one who solves most of the problems and minor crises that constantly crop up around the farm. For the Farmer, then, Shaun is just a ‘dumb’ animal and Bitzer is following his orders while he eats donuts and enjoys himself, thinking he’s the boss. This is all a great allegory for the way the unconscious works–the Farmer and Bitzer are opposites but in constant communication, and meanwhile Shaun is the one thinking creatively and seemingly coming up with plans to cope with the chaos that mainly they create. This is why Shaun and Bitzer are best friends too, because both are at least trying to keep the utopian space of Mossy Bottom safe and sound for all the sheep. Strangely, it is the Farmer who is the most “animal” (and dumb) of all the creatures on the farm, insofar as he has no purpose or motivation (other than pleasure) to keep going in/for this world, and this is partly because his relation to tthe farm is limited to his interactions with Bitzer–whereas the other animals fraternize, fight, and interact as a community using whatever ‘language’ they can.

Odeonsplatz in der Nähe

Ages ago, trekking Neubiberg to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek every day to do dissertation research, I rubbed this feline nose (the shiny one at bottom) many times on the way home, since it’s supposed to bring luck and seemed like a nice ritual and all. Was thinking about him today because today, here in Covidia, we’re so paranoid about touching anything outside. Those were good days, despite their being terrible. <img>

Who wants to research Achilles Fang?

A few days ago it struck me that too little is known about Achilles Fang, aka 方志浵, the man on the far left above, who wrote the introductions to several of Ezra Pound’s more important works, incl. Confucius, the Confucian Odes, and others. Turns out he was a brilliant, eccentric polyglot Chinese scholar at Harvard who taught famed sinologists like Arthur Wright, Francis Woodman Cleaves, and others how to read and interpret classical Chinese. Moreover, he was one of Qian Zhongshu’s (錢鐘書) few friends at Tsinghua University in the 1930s, so it’s really a pity so little has been written about him, especially considering he held major influence across a number of fields and intellectual undertakings in both China and the US during the 1950s. Plus, he’s just a fascinating personality who is central to American and Chinese Modernism. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the story goes that he was hired by Harvard’s East Asian studies program to work on their Chinese-English dictionary but got sacked for making too many cryptic references to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. He didn’t publish very much, but Fang’s papers and letters, archived at Yale Univ. in Connecticut, would probably reveal a dissertation’s-worth of important cross-cultural material.